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Tampa Police Aviation Unit

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Over the Skyway Bridge


Frequently Asked Questions Bell 407 Cockpit
The Aviation Unit provides 24-hour helicopter support to patrol officers to improve the safety of our citizens. During a vehicle pursuit, patrol officers can back off while the eye in the sky covertly follows the suspect - directing the patrol officers from a safe distance. The suspect slows down and officers move in for the arrest. Air Service also conducts surveillance for tracking down suspects during foot pursuits as well as aerial surveillance for large scale events such as Gasparilla. There are 16 personnel assigned to the Aviation Unit - one Sergeant, six pilots, six tactical flight officers, two aircraft mechanics and one materials coordinator. The pilots have commercial licenses and are sworn law enforcement officers. Each year, the unit's pilots fly about 2,500 hours and respond to nearly 4,000 calls for service. All of the unit's maintenance is done in house, with two full-time mechanics.

Bell 407 & OH-6Bell 407

The Unit currently operates two Bell 407 helicopters and one Bell 206 L4.  The Bell 407 is a single-engine helicopter that seats seven people, including the pilot.  It has a flight time capability of 3.5 hours.  The Bell 407 is widely used throughout the country as one of the leading helicopters for law enforcement.  It has superior performances with the best speed, payload and range available in its class.  It has superior power to weight ratio.  It has exceptional passenger comfort with the smoothest ride in its class.  Vietnam Era OH-6The unit also operates one military surplus OH-6 helicopter. This Vietnam era helicopter was received by the department in 1994, and is an economic value to the citizens of Tampa. They are normally operated with just a pilot and an observer and can stay on patrol for approximately two hours.



Tampa Police helicopters are equipped with a Lockheed Martin Gyro camera system. This tool is for critical for law enforcement operations. The camera has a 40 power zoom lens, which provides bright color video to officers in the helicopters during the day. But, even in the darkness of the night, criminals can't escape. After dark, the camera technology uses an infrared lens. Infrared picks up the differences in heat. For instance, a living being has a much higher temperature than a plant, making it easy for the flight observer to spot the criminal hiding in the bushes. All of the video can be down linked to a mobile command post or Tampa Police Headquarters. This is useful for real time information, especially during large scale events such as Super Bowl XLIII.

Night VisionNight Vision Goggles

All pilots and flight observers are trained and certified in the use of night vision goggles.  Pilots use this tool in close proximities during the night for emergency landings to avoid hitting light poles and power lines.  This helps in the safety of the pilot and community.

The Aviation Unit utilizes 4th Generation Technology. All Night Vision Devices (NVD) consist of several main parts: an objective lens, an eyepiece, a power supply and an image intensifier tube (Photocathode Tube). Night vision devices gather existing ambient light (starlight, moonlight or infra-red light) through the front lens. This light, which is made up of photons goes into a photocathode tube that changes the photons to electrons.


AvalexAvalex Monitor In Cockpit

Each police helicopter is equipped with a state of the art aerial photo aid for disaster missions called Avalex.  This is a GPS based map system allows the flight crew to enter an address, intersection or any named location and provide directions to that point.  This technology was  purchased through a federal grant from the Urban Area Security Initiative for use during a natural disaster or terrorist attack.  Locations can be quickly marked and saved to highlight a piece of evidence or a targeted search area.  The map system is updated annually to accurately reflect new roads and other construction.  It also provides longitude/latitude data which provides information to marine units on the exact location of a boat in distress or hazard to navigation.

Bambi Bucket

Bambi Bucket

The helicopters also have water rescue and firefighting capabilities. Pilots have a technique for scooping up water to fight fires or decontaminate hazardous materials spills. The Bambi Bucket suspends below the helicopter and it scoops up to 100 gallons of water quickly from ponds, streams, lakes and the bay. The flight crew can get to places firefighters can't.

TRT/Dive Platform

TRT Platform


The helicopters can also be an aerial platform for the SWAT or Dive team. Officers hook a bench on the side of the aircraft and it allows divers or TRT members to jump from the helicopter.

    Aviation Unit Assists...

Deploying Divers  Helicopter Rescuing Boater
The Dive Team
Deploying TRT
TRT repelling from Helicopter

The Tactical Response Team

Helicopter Assist Marine Unit Aviation Unit Checks Boaters At Beach
The Marine Unit